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An Apple a Day: Heirloom Apples Protected by Land Conservancies

Doug Hundley, right, of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service visits Grassy Ridge, where an abandoned homestead farm was discovered. Courtesy: Doug Hundley
Doug Hundley, right, of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service visits Grassy Ridge, where an abandoned homestead farm was discovered. Courtesy: Doug Hundley
October 7, 2015

MORGANTON, N.C. - The saying "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" dates back to 1860, but the roots of some heirloom apples in North Carolina date back even further.

Gary McCurry and his son own Fox Gap Farm in Burke County and are harvesting their first crop of organic, heirloom apples this year.

"The taste kind of jumps out at you on some of these heirloom varieties," McCurry said. "They're really flavorful; they have strong taste. To eat a tree-ripened fruit of any variety, heirloom or not, you're going to have a much better experience than you are to eat one that's green in the middle, that never really did tree-ripen."

McCurry is donating his crop to Fonta Flora Brewery to brew a craft beer that will help raise money for the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina. While Fox Gap Farm specifically planted heirloom apples, the fruit also is scattered on many abandoned homesteads, often protected by land conservancies. Heirloom apples grow specifically well in the mountain climate.

Doug Hundley, spokesman for the North Carolina Extension Service, often works with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy to hunt for heirloom apples on conservancy land, with much success.

"These apples are everywhere in western North Carolina where these land trusts are so active," he said, "and these are farms that are homesteads that were pioneered between 1800 to 1900."

Hundley said heirloom apples often outlive the people who plant them.

"They are the apples our ancestors grew in America starting in the 1600s," he said, "and the country survived on them until the supermarkets took over our food supply."

In addition to being better tasting, heirloom apples can be more nutritious than newer varieties because of their amount of vitamins and lack of potentially harmful chemicals or fertilizers often used in large-scale production.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC